What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Bigger picture

I will put up something more substantial later on, but for now here is an essay from John Horgan with a big-breath kind of take on mankind's history of war-making.
Four caveats to keep in mind, reading it, that I can think of right now:
- He fails to notice any international wars after 2003, but what about Georgia, 2008? I am not saying it was not an exceptional and complicated outcome in a complicated context, but still it is there to be reckoned with.
- He takes a restrictive view on warfare, so it is not just the more conventional "international" (interstate) wars between states that he does not notice. But also the many instances of subversive, indirect, deniable warfare between them - the "fourth generation warfare (4GW)," if you wish to use William Lind's vocabulary.
- Asserting SIPRI's claim that armed conflicts only produced 25,600 casualties last year ("Last year, 25,600 combatants and civilians were killed as a direct result of armed conflicts, according to the 2009 Yearbook of SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, to be released Aug. 17. Two thirds of these deaths took place in just three trouble spots: Sri Lanka (8,400), Afghanistan (4,600), and Iraq (4,000)") is not really fine like this. Being "killed in action" is not the only way war can harm one's life. Consult Virgil Hawkins on this issue; he offers a lot of data on the indirect casulaties of war who may die because of the generally dreadful conditions in war zones. (Oops, correction, it turns out I skipped one para in John Horgan's article at this point, but the SIPRI figures cited there for indirect victims are lower than several other of the available estimates.)
- Which brings us to my fourth point here: hunter-gatherer and other early societies did not lay mines, did not cause such intensive destruction to basic infrastructure with the kind of kinetic effects that they had at their disposal, and they did not exist at the level of vulnerable, fragile complexity that most modern societies do. So the indirect consequences of war are indeed very important. (Btw, mentioned societies did not have nuclear weapons, either, and those might give a whole new meaning to war and its potential implications as well.)
Still, as I noted at the end of a previous post, it can be interesting to take the 35,000-feet-high perspective at times.

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